Having confidence in prayer

Having confidence in prayer

James holds the prophet Elijah to be an example of the power of prayer in James 5:17-18. Of course, this is true: Elijah prayed, and the rain stopped. He prayed again, and the rain restarted. The message to take from that, according to James, is not that Elijah is a special person whom God listens to more closely. No, the message is that Elijah was a man just like us. Prayer is not dependent on the pray-er but the one who is prayed to.

Looking at Elijah’s example of praying in 1 Kings 18 reveals some interesting and important truths. While not the example referred to by James 5, we should remember that James confirms to us that Elijah’s praying is not something we can write off as being special because Elijah was a prophet.

1 Kings 18 tells us at least three things about prayer:

1. We don’t need to convince our God to act

The core of 1 Kings 18 is the context between the prophets of Baal and Elijah on the top of Mt Carmel. Both sides pray to their god. The difference is dramatic. The prophets of Baal cry out to their god with enthusiasm for many hours, increasing their intensity as the day wore on. They are described as “raving on” in v29. When no answer came, they started to cut themselves to show their devotion to their god. Why would they do this? Because they believed that their god needed convincing. They needed to show Baal that they were serious and really wanted and deserved him to act for them.

The true God is different to this. Elijah asks simply and directly. He doesn’t need to rave on for hours and cut himself to show his devotion. He knows the LORD is his God and the God of his people, and what is being asked for is in line with what God’s priorities for the world are. Elijah knew what we also know. God loves his people more than we can imagine. We don’t need to prove that we deserve God to do something for us; we don’t deserve anything from God. We simply ask, as much loved children, and God hears us. Jesus himself teaches much the same thing in Matthew 6.

2. Prayer to the true God is simple and direct

Looking more closely at Elijah’s prayer for God to show who he is reveals what prayer is like. Sometimes we can get put off by long, flowery prayers. The prayers we hear from mature Christians can be full of detailed Biblical language and structured like a beautiful piece of poetry. In truth, while there is nothing wrong with long prayers, they don’t need to be long. We can simply speak to God and ask for anything.

Elijah’s prayer shows who God is, who he is, and what he is asking God to do. The reason for the request is not for Elijah’s comfort but to turn the hearts of the people back to God. God doesn’t need flowery words to be convinced to hear us. He loves us already. He wants us to speak to him. Simple prayers are usually best. Don’t overthink it or overstructure it, just talk to your Father who loves you.

3. We will not always get an answer to prayer immediately

If the only example of prayer we had was Elijah’s prayer for fire atop Mt Carmel, we would expect God to respond like that to all our prayers. However, if we skip down to the end of 1 Kings 18, we see Elijah pray again, this time for rain. He prays six times with no response, then a cloud appears on the seventh time. Fire came immediately after one simple prayer, yet he needed far more persistence for the rain. Why? We’re not told, but perhaps God was teaching Elijah and us an important lesson. When we pray, the answer is not dependent on us; it is up to God when and how to respond. If Elijah didn’t get a quick answer every time, we shouldn’t expect one either! We need to persist in prayer, trusting God hears us and will do what is right.

The fact that we need to persist in prayer so often doesn’t mean God isn’t listening very hard and needs convincing. It is not that we are sinful and need to be better for God to hear us. No, in God’s wisdom, he thinks having to wait and trust Him for an answer is good for our faith. It keeps us humble to know we don’t get everything we want.

Prayer is a great gift from God. It doesn’t need to be complex. We just need to speak to our Father who loves to hear from us and who doesn’t need flowery language to be convinced to listen. Why not pray right now?